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LIGHTHOUSES, STUCK AT THE FAR END OF THE SKY — The Ability of Video Games to Influence Ego-Involvement John Nelson Kennesaw State University


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Lighthouses, Stuck at the Far End of the Sky — The Ability of Video Games to Influence EgoInvolvement

Introduction In 2003, Valve Corporation released a revolutionary gaming platform. It was not a new console or PC; it was a piece of software that anyone could download to any computer and use to buy nearly any game. In the late 2000s, the world witnessed an eruption of independent games, spurred on by the success of titles like Spelunky and Minecraft. Steam helped to bring about a new frontier in gaming by giving small developers and independent artists a market in which to exchange and publish their ideas. More recent games like 2011’s To the Moon and 2015’s Undertale have fully taken advantage of the now open doors into indie video game story-telling. While some major studios commentate quite earnestly on political or social issues, as in 2013’s BioShock Infinite, those developers rarely choose one particular focus and instead employ broad ideas and themes. Indie games, on the other hand, are often developed and written to convey a message about a few very specific topics. BioShock Infinite is a powerful game about politics, religion, and choice. To the Moon narrows its focus down from the broad to a statement about Asperger’s Syndrome and its effects on memory and love. It is an increasingly popular trend in both gaming and in mass media as a whole; American society is developing an increasing attitude of social awareness, and our entertainment is following suit. Our television is growing more serious and humanistic, like the social issues discussed in Fox’s Empire. Political music is going mainstream again, as evidenced by Kendrick Lamar’s success, and our video games are boldly going where no developers have gone before. It is a fascinating time in which to live in and study the industry.


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The idea behind such story-centric games is clear: the writers want to get a point across. In To the Moon, the story is autism. The protagonists, Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts are partners that work for a fictional company called the Sigmund Corporation. Sigmund specializes in a very specific field; its scientists go into the memories of dying patients who contract their services and alter their recollection so that they can live out their final wish. In this particular case, their patient, Johnny, wants to go to the moon, but he does not know why. He just knows that he always has. His wife, River, died within the last few years, and lived her entire life with Asperger’s Syndrome. Without giving away too many of the game’s details, Eva and Neil have to unravel the memories of their patient before he passes away, and the key to doing so is River (Freebird Games, 2011). The poignant final outcome of To the Moon speaks volumes about love and about living life with Asperger’s. Many gamers who played through reported extremely powerful emotions upon completing the story (Pewdiepie, 2012). While they were undoubtedly real emotions, the question lies in whether or not the game achieved its purpose by influencing their perspective on the condition, or if it simply made them feel a certain way. The Theory Every time a person receives a message, be it an ad, story, political speech, or religious sermon, he or she must decide whether or not to accept or reject it, whether to allow it to influence his thoughts, beliefs, or actions. It has to pass a series of internal tests developed by the culture and predispositions of the audience, and then it must rate as important enough to the individual to matter. Social Judgment Theory seeks to quantify this mental set of processes and examine the ways in which it happens.


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4 Literature Review

In order to explore the effect of video games on ego-involvement, it is vital to first define what exactly has been theorized about the subject. Social Judgment Theory, along with its requisite terms and ideas, has been thoroughly documented and researched since its inception in 1961, and is still widely cited and expanded upon today. Originally coined by Muzafer Sherif, with the assistance of Carolyn Sherif and Carl Hovland (1961), Social Judgment Theory is an idea rooted in social psychology that attempts to explain the methods by which an audience processes information (Sherif & Sherif 1967). According to Daniel J. O’Keefe (1990), a prolific communication scholar at Northwestern University, “the central tenet of social judgment theory is that attitude change is mediated by judgmental process and effects” (O’Keefe 1990, p. 29). In the preface to Attitude, EgoInvolvement, and Change, Dr. M. Sherif (1967) stated that “when we deal with lasting assumptions, lasting premises, lasting beliefs, lasting convictions, and lasting sentiments, we are dealing with attitude” and that “a person’s attitude are always inferred from some comparison, some choice, or some decision that he makes among alternatives” (Sherif & Sherif 1967, p. 2-3). In other words, the way in which an audience receives a persuasive message is governed by their judgment. Their political, religious, cultural, and ethical beliefs act like a filter, sifting texts through that they find important, and blocking out or ignoring those that they do not. This filter of personality is regulated by the amount of personal stake that the audience has in the issue; by their ego-involvement. Roger Nebergall, a peer and co-author to the Sherifs, defined levels of ego-involvement as “Varying degrees concerning matters on which [people] hold social attitudes” (Nebergall 1966, 213). Nebergall’s attitude is the stance or opinion that the audience holds on the issue. Ego-involvement, then, refers to how personally important the issue


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is to the attitude-holder and dictates how strongly they cling to their belief. For example, a prolife voter’s attitude is that abortion should be regulated or illegal. Depending on their background and personal morality, the voter could believe that the procedure is morally wrong and that it should be illegal; they would then be highly ego-involved in abortion. A voter who was pro-life, but was more interested in gun rights than abortion, would be less ego-involved in the latter, and more so in the former. There are two well-documented ways in which social psychologists and scholars measure ego-involvement. The first is the “Own Categories Questionnaire”. In this test, respondents are presented with a series of stances on an issue. They are asked to sort the statements that “belong together” into a number of categories that make sense to them and to structure said categories so that they range from “favorable to unfavorable” (Diab 1979, p. 228). The “Ordered Alternative Questionnaire”, by contrast, lays out a list of statements, bordered by two extremes on either end and running the ideological gamut between them. The responder identifies the two statements that they find most agreeable and most disagreeable, respectively. They then mark which other ideas that they support or oppose (O’Keefe 1979, p. 32). Muzafer Serif and Carl Hovland (1961), used the latter test to conduct research on political elections. Their extreme statements voiced definitive support for either the Republican or Democratic parties. They then gradually regressed down to more moderate positions such as “Although it is hard to decide, it is probable that the country’s interests may be better served if the Republican…candidates are elected in November” (O’Keefe 1979, p. 31). In a study published in 1979, Lufty N. Diab, former Chairman of Psychology at the American University of Beirut, examined the effects of ego-involvement on controversial political issues with the Own Categories test. He instructed two groups of Arab psychology


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students to sort thirty-two statements about Palestine. The first group of seventy-three was roughly equal in gender and religious ratio. Three-fourths of the group were Lebanese Arabs. The second group contained thirty students, fifteen of which were “known to be extremely proPalestinian” and fifteen who were the opposite (Diab, 1979). The second group’s statements replaced “they” with “Palestinian Commandos”, thereby making them much more controversial. Diab found that his results supported his initial hypothesis, as the students with strong viewpoints condemned a “disproportionately large number of items” to the unfavorable category (Diab 1979, p. 231) and vice-versa for the favorable one. Thus, those students who held more entrenched beliefs about Palestine were demonstrated to have a high level of ego-involvement. A judgment necessarily implies a decision, whether to align with or disavow a belief, or to remain undecided. Sherif and Sherif defined an attitudinal spectrum that epitomizes this, made up of three “latitudes”. The perspective that is most in line with the beliefs of the person, along with those that they moderately agree with, lie within their “latitude of acceptance”, while those that they most vehemently oppose and those that they find distasteful make up their “latitude of rejection”. Anything in the middle of the two extremes are their “latitude of noncommitment” (Sherif & Sherif, 1967). To use the earlier example, the voter who was absolutely prolife would place any argument in support of abortion into their latitude of rejection and any legislation that moved to illegalize it in their latitude of acceptance. The passionately pro-gun rights voter would have the 2nd Amendment in their latitude of acceptance, but would leave the abortion issue within their latitude of noncommitment. Ephriam Yuchtman-Yaar and Tamar Herman published a 1998 study concerning the attitude change and latitude of acceptance of Israeli citizens after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995 (Yuchtman-Yaar & Herman, 1998). Rabin was


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killed by a far-right protestor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, Yigal Amir, after a rally in Tel Aviv in what is now called Rabin Square (Schemann, 1995). The researchers wanted to examine whether Israeli citizens’ attitudes toward political protest changed after the killing. In order to do so, they gathered telephone interviews that had previously been conducted as part of the Peace Index Process. In them, responders were asked whether they felt that citizens had the right to legal peaceful protest, civil disobedience, or violent protest (Yuchtman-Yaar & Herman, 1998). To catalogue the hypothesized change in attitude, the interviews were taken from “four specific points of measurement: September 27, 1995, about 5 weeks before the assassination…5 November 8, 1995, 4 days after the assassination…October 29, 1996, about 1 year later…and December 30, 1997, about 2 years afterwards” (Yuchtman-Yaar & Herman, 1998, p. 7). The study found that, predictably, support for no protest at all and legal protest climbed significantly, while support for illegal protest, either violent or nonviolent, fell. In all cases, the opinions levelled out at the year and two year marks, meaning that the assassination permanently affected the attitudes of Israeli citizens at the time (Yuchtman-Yaar & Herman, 1998). Aside from the placement of issues, the relative sizes of the latitude of acceptance versus those of rejection and noncommitment are also important to Social Judgment Theory. In a study similar to the political party measurement above, Sherif, Sherif, and Nebergall (1960) conducted research on the size of participants’ latitudes on various controversial issues in the 1960 election year using the Ordered Alternatives Test. By presenting perspectives on the issue in order from A to I, A being the most Republican viewpoint, I being the most Democratic, they were able to gauge the latitudes of their subjects (Sherif & Sherif, 1967). As one would expect, and as Diab found, “The latitude of rejection increases in size with the as a function of the extremity of the person’s position,” and “The latitude of noncommitment is inversely related to extremity of


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commitment” (Sherif & Sherif, 1967, p. 118). To translate the math, those with a stronger opinion about a topic had more issues that they rejected outright, and those who were more moderate had more that they did not take a stance on. A more recent study, and one that concerns a topic more closely related to this paper, examined the reason that people upload content to YouTube through the lens of ego-involvement and the Theory of Planned Behavior (Park, N, Jung, Y., Lee. K.W., 2011). Briefly, as it is not the primary subject of this paper, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), first coined by Icek Azjen, posits that an individual’s intent to perform and action, and to a lesser extent, their performance itself, stems from his own perception of himself, his loved ones and peers’ attitude toward the action in question, and the “perceived behavioral control” of the action (Azjen, 1991). The latter term was of most importance to the aforementioned study, defined as “people’s perception of the ease or difficulty of performing the behavior of interest” (Azjen, 1991, p. 183). The researchers’ hypothesis stated that a those with a more positive attitude and more perceived behavioral control will give have more desire to upload videos to YouTube and that their ego-involvement will govern both factors. The subjects, college students, were presented with an online survey from SurveyMonkey and were rewarded with five dollars in school meal credit for their participation. The survey was designed to calculate several aspects of uploading, including ego-involvement. To determine the latter, the researchers tailored their questions around whether or not the students considered uploading videos to YouTube to be an important part of their personalities and lives as a means of self-expression (Park, N, Jung, Y., Lee. K.W., 2011). The data indicated that “ego-involvement was significantly associated with both attitude and behavioral intention” (Namkee et al 2011, p. 2003). The students’ ego involvement was correlated with their peers’ attitudes and their own beliefs.


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9 Methodology

The study will be divided into two parts, consisting of the same survey delivered twice. Participants will take part in an Ordered Alternatives Test made up of a series of moral and political issues, including a mix of attitudes about autism and mental health awareness. The researcher will measure their ego-involvement and latitude of acceptance/rejection by examining what issues were marked most and least important. Then, they will play To the Moon, or, if they do not want to purchase the game, there is a playthrough available without commentary on YouTube. Immediately after finishing the game, regardless, they will take the same test. The two sets of answers will be compared to see whether the story of the game affected their egoinvolvement, particularly as it pertains to mental health. The object is to see whether or not the subjects will become more ego-involved in mental health issues after finishing the game.


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10 References

Ajzen, I. From intentions to actions: a theory of planned behavior. In Kuhl, J & Beckman, J (Eds.), Action control from cognition to behavior (pp.11-39). Retrieved from http://www.duluth.umn.edu/~kgilbert/educ5165731/Readings/Theory%20of%20Planned%20Behavior-%20Azjen.pdf. Diab. L. N. (1979). A structured-disguised technique for assessing attitudes and egoinvolvement. The Journal of Social Psychology, 108, 227–232. Freebird Games. (2011). To the moon. [video game]. Canada. Kjellberg, F. [Pewdiepie]. (2012, September 2). To the moon--ending!--part 14. Retireved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dziomlv7UgQ Nebergall, R. (1965). The social judgment-involvement approach to attitude and attitude change. Western Speech. 30, 209–215. O’Keefe, D. (1990). Social judgment theory. Persuasion: theory and research. (29–44). Michigan. SAGE Publications. Park, N., Jung, Y., Lee, K. M. (2011). Intention to upload video content on the Internet: the role of social norms and ego-involvement. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1996-2004. Schemann, S. (1995, November 4). Assassination in Israel: the overview; Rabin slain after peace rally in Tel Aviv; Israeli gunman held; says he acted alone. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/05/world/assassination-israeloverview-rabin-slain-after-peace-rally-tel-aviv-israeli.html?pagewanted=all Sherif, M. & Sherif, C. (Ed.). (1967). Attitude, ego-involvement, and change. Location: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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Yuchtman-Yaar, E. & Hermann, T. (1998). The latitude of acceptance Israeli attitudes toward political protest before and after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 6, 721–743

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Lighthouses, Stuck at the Far End of the Sky